Sunday, 22 June 2014

Theatre Review: WarHorse, Wales Millennium Centre

Its a skill in itself to successfully bring elements of drama, song, puppetry and animation together on stage, yet that is what the National Theatre have done with their production of WarHorse, currently playing its UK tour at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

The tale begins on British farmland on the eve of the First World War where a young farm boy Albert, has to break in his beloved hunter as a plow horse at the pains of a bet set by his father.

Albert's devotion to the horse, which he calls Joey sets the pair off on the ultimate journey of adventure when Joey's father sells the horse to the British Cavalry to participate in front line battles against the Kaiser.

WarHorse scenes shift effortlessly from rural farmland to the battlefields of World War One depicting every emotion from beauty, despair, glory and destruction via an animated  backdrop of torn paper ripped from the sketchbook of the Cavalry Major who takes charge of Joey.

The sheer madness and despair of the situation of a war is brought to life on stage by a talented cast and a creative team of puppet operatives that control the on stage horses (and farm geese!)

 Dressed in period costume as farmhands it is easy in the beginning to watch how each puppeteer handles the horse from every twitch, snort, trot or curl of the ear. However the focus soon drifts on to the horses themselves as they magically come to life leading characters into battle and majestically ride the boards of the stage.

For the cast, Lee Armstrong embraces the role of Albert Naracott with sensitivity and great belief establishing a convincing relationship with his beloved horse on stage and subsequently beginning a search for him on the battleground.

Martin Wenner gives a moving portrayal of Hauptmann Friedrich Muller who takes charge of Joey when he crosses enemy lines. Muller's questioning of why everyone (including the horses) are caught up in such a terrible war is handled beautifully.

There is also strong support from David Fleeshman as Albert's father Arthur, struggling from old war wounds and attempting to run a farm inevitably making a series of wrong decisions that help the story unfold. Sean McKenzie, on the other hand adds a touch of comedy to the dramatic story line as the effing and blinding Sergeant Thunder who characteristically has a duty to perform but still shows some sensitivity.

Finally Bob Fox atmospherically weaves folk songs of a traditional air between the scenes of the ongoing action adding a beautiful lilt to the narrative.

Ultimately amongst such a talented actors taking on dual roles and technical operatives there are obviously many name-check omissions here, but all those taking part can be certain that they have contributed to a mesmerising moving and truly magnificent  theatrical experience.

War Horse continues at Wales Millennium Centre until July 19, 2014 visit Wales Millenium Centre's website for booking details.

Andy Howells

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